Dayton Theater

Dayton Theater

The featured photo of the Dayton Theater shown above was taken in 1941. (Photo Courtesy George & Becky Arnold Collection)

First Building In Dayton To Have Air Conditioning

Modern Theater Opens in Downtown Dayton

The November 21, 1935, edition of the Dayton Herald Newspaper carried a front-page story, “Dayton to Boast New Sound Movie Theater”. The announcement read that Dayton would soon have a completely new theater with modern equipment and first-run films.

E.M. Williamson, Dayton, capitalist, and property owner entered an agreement with Crescent Amusement Company, of Tullahoma, Tennessee, for construction of the new theater on north Market Street about a block south of the courthouse.

The old frame building that occupied the property where the new theater was to erected was torn down. They constructed the new theater building on a 30x100 foot lot and had a seating capacity of approx. four hundred patrons.

The construction of the new theater was completed and opened for business in March of 1936 at an estimated cost of $30,000.00, which included the lot, building and equipment.

Aside from the latest state-of-the-art sound system, the building was the first in Dayton to have air conditioning.

The first movie shown in the new theater was “The Voice of Bugle Ann”.

It is unknown exactly how many times the theater changed ownership through the years, but we do know at some point in its early history Cowen Woodlee of McMinnville, Tennessee, purchased the theater. He later partnered with a cousin of his from Dayton, Wayne C. Woodlee.

Wayne Woodlee would later go on to obtain full ownership of the business. For a few short years, Mr. Woodlee owned and operated the “Dayton Drive-In Theater” which was located just above town.

Becky Welch Arnold, granddaughter of Mr. Woodlee, has many fond memories of spending time around the theater with her grandfather. One special memory she recalls was going outside and watching him change out the movie posters when new films would arrive.

Many from our generation can recall splendid memories of spending Saturday afternoons at the theater along with their friends.

The closing date of the old theater downtown is not exactly known at this time, but according to several sources, it is believed to have closed around late 1959 to early 1960. (I will update this article with the correct closing date as soon as one can be verified.)

Prior to the opening of the Dayton Theater, there had been a theater in town doing business as the Lyric Theater. There is extraordinarily little information available about this theater.

Thirteen years would pass before there would be another movie theater located in Dayton. In 1973, Bill Matherly opened the “Jerry Lewis Cinema” in the newly developed Richland Park Shopping Center north of town.

Ironically, Bill Matherly developed an interest in the movie theater business when he was a teenager working for Mr. Woodlee. Each Saturday morning, Bill would pass out flyers around downtown advertising the day’s film. In return for his work, he received free admission to the theater that day. Bill, however, would not go in to watch the movie with his friends; he took the opportunity to watch Mr. Woodlee in the projection room operating the equipment. We will delve more into the theater in Richland Park in a future post.

A special thanks to George and Becky Arnold of Dayton for sharing the original 16mm film of “Dayton on Parade” with us. Becky’s grandfather, Mr. Woodlee had shown the film at the Dayton Theater on December 15th & 16th of 1941.

The Following ads appeared in the Dayton Herald Newspaper the week of grand opening. 

Dayton Theater

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The Voice of Bugle Ann

Published byDean

Born and raised in Dayton Tennessee, I have served in various public service positions in the past. I have a great interest in the History of our town. This site is a way for me to share some of the great history of the area.

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